Mornings Are for Suckers (and people who like mornings)
Is this 2 or 3 of these runs together? I don’t know. Neither one of us could remember. I remember writing about at least one run together. Heck, I even remember what I wrote – but hell if I can find the post. Regardless – on this occasion we ran in the early evening like civilized adults with aging children. Not in the wee hours of the morning like a couple of zombies (like I used to do after chasing around under developed miniature versions of myself all night).
I swear – I’m not really judging my early morning running friends as much as I am excited to be able to run with someone later in the day. Seriously.
Most of our texting involves negotiating a time to run.
Hogan: “What time are you thinking?” Me: “Early but not dumb. 8ish?” Hogan: “I like Evening. 6:30pm?”
See how he just goes from 8am to 630 pm in one declarative move? He wastes no time in steering the conversation his way. Not that I am surprised by this move, nor do I object. But…
Me: “Dang – I’m spoken for from the afternoon on…” Hogan: “I’m spoken for in the am… by my bed!!!”
After a couple months of back and forth (we are apparently very busy people) we finally found a time that worked. He was looking at a down-week in marathon training and I needed to run on a Friday night. Scheduling magic occurs and we found ourselves on the trail around 5:15 last Friday night.
We ran 13.1 miles on the B&A trail.
Can I just pause a sec for a shout out to the Anne Arundel department of Recreation and Parks? These folks maintain the trail and I cannot gush enough about what an amazing job they do at ensuring it remains a quality accessible resource for all who use it.
Is it a long ass stretch of incredibly boring asphalt trail? Yes – but it’s ours and I love and appreciate it.
I have easily run 15 to 20 of these runs on the trail. I really can’t be sure – I mean see the opening paragraph where I can’t find a very specific run that I almost 12% sure that it happened. But even if I’m in the ballpark this trail has been an invaluable resource for me in providing a safe place to run this past year and I appreciate it.
– end shout. Back to the run –
We started at at Jones Station near the 3.5 mile marker on the trail behind a Rite Aid and Park and Ride. The plan was to head South until we hit some trail maintenance and then come back to the start, do some math and then run North for (half) the remainder and then come back. But like most plans, this one didn’t last long as we realized that the repairs on the trail were already done. SO we kept on running to the trail head. Mile 0.
3.5 miles to the head. 3.5 miles back. 6.1 miles to go.
This easy math was particularly helpful for me since I FORGOT TO WEAR MY WATCH on this run! I don’t know how to explain this lapse but maybe let’s chalk it up to being close to done with these and I’m subconsciously trying to make it harder on myself. Self sabotage and all that.
Lucky for me, Hogan had me covered with his trusty phone/Strava combo. Also lucky for me he was coming off of his last long run before a marathon so he didn’t mind going a little slower than normal. You can see I started my now usual “walk the first minute of every mile” at mile 8.
Not the Run
When I write about running with people I try to stick to the ideas and sentiment in the abstract of our conversation as much as I can rather than get too specific. Conversation on the run can be a sacred place and I never want to share what wasn’t meant to be shared.
You: “Oh my goodness – what in the world did you guys talk about???” Probably you: “Whatever dude – when is this post going to be over?” Also if you are a runner: “Amen” Me: “Whatever dude – when is this post going to be over?” Me: “Seriously – where are you going with this? It’s like long and boring like the trail.”
Anyways – there was one idea from this run that stuck with me and that is how we as individuals can be different things to different people at different times. Obviously we change over time – but even in the short term we can simultaneously hold different points of view or display different behaviors depending on the context of the situation.
Something that Hogan added that I had never considered before is (and I’m paraphrasing with that “gifted” memory of mine) that in some cases it isn’t necessarily who we chose to be in that moment but it’s about who the world needs us to be in that moment. Even in that case we both agreed that what the world “needs” us to be is largely dependent on how we see the world (in that moment) and of course – no two people see the world in exactly the same way do they?
So I guess more accurately – it’s who we think the world needs us to be in that moment that guides us. And still there will be times when you will be absolutely sure that you are 100% right about a solution to a problem – but literally NO ONE else around you will see it your way. What do you do?
There may have been a mile or so of lamenting the apparent fact that some people wander around without any awareness of who they are or who they’re showing up as.
Sometimes there is so much to say I don’t even know where to start. Like I used to feel when I’d go grocery shopping and the fridge would be so full of food I couldn’t decide what to eat. “I dunno – this olive loaf looks interesting…” That last example is a lie – I’ve never bought an olive loaf before – but it’s a safe bet that I will, now that I’ve written about it. One Hundred percent guarantee that I’ll look it up and at least find out what it is.
I don’t usually have that problem anymore – with the food I mean. I buy what I need, what I like, and what I plan to eat. I limit my choices so I don’t have to think about it. It doesn’t matter – this post isn’t about food or nutrition.
You: “Really? Because so far that is literally *all* you’ve written about. Assuming Olive loaf is a food. IDK. I haven’t clicked the link yet.”
You’re right. I’m stalling. I’m stalling because this past weekend was the Out of the Darkness Walk – a walk to prevent suicide and there is just so much to say about it that I’m not sure how to get into it. Like with the food, I try to limit my difficult topics in life so I don’t have to think about them – and this…This is the mother of all “Olive Loaf Topics” if there ever was one.
My girlfriend Katie introduced me to the Walk 6 years ago. Her cousin Kim and Husband Wayne had lost their daughter Morgan to suicide in 2009 and started a foundation to help others affected by suicide. She has lost friends to suicide and has close friends who have attempted suicide.
I only know one person (I think) who has died of suicide. I know only a few people who have attempted suicide and still more who suffer from depression… but – I don’t have the first clue what to say about it. I don’t choose to talk about it in everyday conversation. I am not practiced in talking about it and for those reasons I tend not to say much – which leads to less talking about suicide and prevention – which does NOT help people who suffer. It is a negative spiral. Many forms of human suffering are all affected by this same spiral.
Why? I have to guess that we’re afraid of it? We don’t understand it? We are ashamed that we are not taking care of each other? Deep down we know we could be nicer, more connected, more concerned? Or maybe we don’t believe this particular form of human suffering is part of our world – that it does not affect us.
Until it does. And then we are utterly alone.
But if we’re lucky, someone like Katie’s cousin Kim will be there to help us. Someone who truly knows what loss is – and who can prove to you that living on is not only possible, but essential. She will not blink when talking about suicide or when she asks you to ask her about her daughter Morgan – who ended her 16-year old life by suicide in January, 2009. She will not apologize for talking about how she feels or for reminding us that suicide is a terrible thing that is happening in the world and that there is more we could – SHOULD – be doing to prevent it. She will not look away when you tell her your story. She will understand and stay with you until you know that you are not alone. (Learn more here.)
I am not Kim Beverly. I don’t have that kind of courage when it comes to loss of any kind. So I don’t say much in real life. But I am not all together afraid to write about it online so here I am. This walk – raising awareness and money to fund research around suicide and resources for prevention and people affected by suicide – is my small way of trying to break the spiral. (If you’d like to help by way of donation you can click this.)
I ran alone. Thinking about the day ahead and what it meant to me personally. More on that later.
The walk starts at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium – within running distance from my place. So that’s the direction I started. I planned on timing it to run 13 and meet up with Katie before the walk, but (bonus points if you saw this coming…) I decided to sleep an extra 45 minutes knowing that I could run 10.1 and then finish my milage with the 3 mile walk.
I ate a rockfish reuben and sweet potato fries, Brussels sprouts and buffalo wing cauliflower the night before. Not exactly “night before you run” food so as I got close to the stadium dinner was doing a number on my stomach. I remembered Kim (not Katie’s cousin) lives near there… Her van was in the driveway but I thought better of dropping in to use the facilities. I’ve known her awhile and we’ve logged some miles but… it did not seem like *the move*. Plus – Dan lives *right* across the street from the stadium so I would just swing by there.
But he was not home. (Yikes!)
Fortunately for me, the stadium bathrooms were open because of the walk. I took care of that and thought I’d check in with Kim and Wayne who were there early to get the Team Morgan tent set up. I said my hello’s and went on my way. I was only about 5 miles in at this point.
I had hoped to run over the Naval Academy bridge and on to the trail but I knew without too much math that I didn’t have time. I told Katie I’d meet her at 11 for the 12pm walk so to play it safe I ran “the big loop” in West Annapolis and then back around the stadium. I knew Katie would be there by then so I decided to take a break – I mean – say “Hi”.
After a quick hello I set off for a couple more laps around the stadium and got my 10.1 miles.
Before the walk there is a ceremony. The AFSP talks about their mission and the specific actions they take with the money raised in order to research, advocate, educate and communicate in the community. After that, different people are called up to stage and their story is read as they pour colored sand into glass jars. Each color represents their story:
White – Lost a Child Red – Lost a Spouse or Partner Gold – Lost a Parent Orange – Lost a Sibling Purple – Lost a Relative or Friend Silver – Lost First Responder / Military Green – Struggled Personally Blue – Support the Cause Teal – Friends and Family of Someone Who Struggles
It is heart-wrenching but it is their reality and as sad as I get watching it and hearing their stories I know that I have not suffered. Not through cancer. Not through Alcoholism. Not through depression. Not through divorce. Nope. I’m… ok.
We also wear beads of the same colors when we walk so others can know why you walk without having to ask. Without you having to say. But people do ask and others do say. Because this is a safe place. During the walk sometimes you talk to someone who wants to talk or listen and it helps. I feel like it helps even more when it’s a stranger. We can see how possible it is to care for one another.
I don’t say much. Because I’m not practiced at it and I don’t have a story to tell and because I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to cause other people pain. I’ll get better – if I keep trying.
I wear Blue and Teal and Purple.
The walk starts at the stadium and goes into downtown Annapolis, loops back around and comes back. In years past we have gone as far into town as City Dock, but this year we turned around at Church Circle. I think we are too large now to clog up DTA for an hour midday on the weekend. I have mixed feelings about this.
One hour and 3 miles later I have my 13.1
Not the Run (or the walk)
So here’s some more about me that isn’t really about me. Something that brings me closer to suicide prevention. I’m the father of an AFAB non-binary gay trans kid. (definitions here) . What does that have to do with anything in this post? I’ll tell you – In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. (From the Trevor Project)
Which means… well it means I need to remind my kids Every. Single. Day. that they are loved and they are not alone and that if they need me I am here for them. No Matter What. And I know that may still not be enough. I am already touched by suicide. I’m moved, saddened… terrified. I’m already affected because I know – while I’m not completely powerless – I understand how little control I actually have.
I’ve been on some runs where folks have questions about it. (The long runs are for talking) “What’s it like for you as a parent?” or “just what is this gender stuff all about anyways?” And maybe I just have amazing people as friends – but not a single person has ever been anything but respectful and curious and it makes me feel so good to know that we can be like that. Humans. We can be curious about something without fearing it. We don’t need to understand it to accept it. I am hopeful that this is what they encounter in the world also.
When they were a baby, I didn’t have any “plans” for them. Sure, I wanted them to become an astronaut because at the time I just wanted someone to take me off of this planet – but ASIDE from that – I didn’t have any idea who they would become. I just wanted them to be happy. I didn’t see a doctor or a lawyer or a musician. Of course I *could* see all of those possibilities (and more) in them but I just wanted them to be happy. To feel that they belonged and that they were loved and that they matter.
And so when they began to transition it was never hard for me. Sure, there have been some awkward weird moments but no one escapes the teenage years without some of those. And… now when I look at them I still don’t see a doctor or a lawyer or a musician. I don’t see a girl and I don’t see a boy. I see a wonderfully beautiful human being who can be an asshole sometimes (like their old man) but who cares about others and who wants to use their intellect and talents to help people.
This is the name of the group that put on the Huntington Beach Summer Dash. From their web site:
“We are offering a friendly, fun racing atmosphere in Southern California. There are no hidden motives, everything is straight forward. We offer the pure essentials of racing. “
And that they did. Imagine any race you’ve ever done – but scaled way back. There were racers – but like 100 of us. 27 doing the half marathon. There was water and nutrition at the turn around – but like a six pack of water and a box of GU. There were start and finish flags – but small ones – like just a hair taller than me. There was an entry fee – but a very modest one.
And it was perfect.
If it sounds like I’m making fun of this race it’s just because I’m doing a bad job of expressing how I felt that everything was in perfect alignment with their mission.
The pre race communication was good. Directions were good. Check in was fast and easy (although here – even with a small race they could have benefited from signs or matching t-shirts for the volunteers.)
Why Huntington Beach? I was in town to drive my oldest, Mikey to College and I just searched online for any Half Marathon happening within driving distance during the time I would be there. And this one came up. I wasn’t super thrilled with the web site (but I rarely am) as it’s a little dated and I was looking at it on my phone – but I liked the name and I liked the mission so I signed up.
“We believe in keeping costs low so everyone can enjoy the experience of participating in a race, achieving personal goals, and making new friends in the process! “
I had a 630 am flight to CA on Thursday which meant no sleep for me on Wednesday since I didn’t want to risk missing the flight. My Sister Sherry (who lives there with my grandmother) and Mikey (who was crashing there for a couple weeks before college) came to get me from the airport on the way to Sherry’s coaching session. (Professional singers have coaches too!) . We had time for breakfast but once Sherry went into her session Mikey and I found a shady tree and took a nap. For an hour.
After the coaching session/nap we headed to Gram’s house where I was gonna be crashing over the weekend. I had a couple more 1 hour snoozes during the day and then a few solid hours from 10-2am when we got up to get ready and load up the car. Wheels up at 3AM. We were driving from La Mirada to San Luis Obispo. It was supposed to take 4.5 hours – it took 3.5. I guess we could have left on Thursday and got a couple hotel rooms in SLO – but where’s the fun in that? Also this was low key a road trip for me and my siblings on the way back.
So we were a little early for breakfast – but that was fine by me. We had time for an extra cup of coffee before dropping Mikey at school. We ate at a tiny diner type restaurant in SLO called Louisa’s place. Service was pleasant and the food was good. Will go again.
I blinked and then we had dropped Mikey off and were on our way back home – though here is photographic evidence of me napping and also getting one last hug.
Then we drove back – which did not go as quickly as the trip up. I mean – my brother and sister and I had planned to take our time coming home so it took about 5.5 hours all together. We stopped to drive my brothers new Jeep on Pismo Beach, then we hit Solvang and grabbed a bowl of Andersen’s split pea soup. I prefer my mom’s soup but we had been here a bunch with my grandparents growing up and wanted to get a little nostalgic so we all got the soup – even though none of us were really all that hungry.
I write all this – well because it happened and I wanted to share – but also to say I was really frickin’ tired for this race! We rolled in around 930 or so and I had to be up at 530 to get to the race in Huntington Beach on time.
The race was held right on the Huntington Beach bike trail and started at Bolsa Chica State Beach. I had pictured running next to the water under a blue sky listening to the waves crash – like the opening to Bachelor in Paradise (not that I have *ever* watched it 😉 ) – but that’s not really how it went down. It was hazy and the beach is huge so you can’t really see the water all that well from the trail.
Still it was pleasant and there was plenty of iconic beach culture and scenery to take in along the trail. VW bugs, countless people surfing, a veritable neighborhood of RVs camped out along the trail with people cooking eggs and bacon on the grill. There were also numerous groups camped out on the beach including birthday parties, class reunions, and what looked like a volunteer group picking up trash.
A Better World Running boasts taking a ton of pictures during the race and again they delivered – by way of a facebook gallery. No fancy web site or expensive prints. Just “hey man, I took some pictures of the race and posted them on Facebook. I hope you like it.” There are way too many of me but a couple turned out OK.
The race itself was preceded by some really quick announcements and a review of the course – run to the cones, turn around, come back. Unless you’re running the half marathon – then keep running till you hit the other cones, turn around and come back – three times. Each out and back for me was 4.4 miles.
The first lap I swear I was asleep for. I sheepishly ran out, mentally taking notes of some things that might make good pictures… later. I wondered if the sky would clear up. It did not – but that sun in CA is no joke so I was actually a little happy about that. The California sun brings heat like the Maryland humidity brings suffering. I may try running in a completely new state to avoid them both. Alaska is looking good.
By the second lap I started to feel a bit more alive. I had tried to count how many of us half marathoners were out there so I could explain away all the faster people as running shorter distances. It’s funny – I know I’m not a super fast runner but I still like to joke to myself “oh – they’re only running 5 miles” or “yeah I remember my 20’s” just to take the edge off how I feel about my pace during a run. It’s easier than track work I guess.
When I came in from my second lap the guy at the turn around joked that the gal in front of me told him I would never catch up to her. He was pulling my leg, trying to wake me up and have a good time. It worked and I replied – “I bet she’s right!” I *did* catch up to her but mostly because I was just running how I felt and that’s the way it happened. It also happened that at the final turn around she dropped me again. I was running out of steam so I decided to make some intervals out of the last two miles to pass the time.
It was a nice simple race and as much as I loved running in the woods of the mountains last week, I loved running next to the ocean this week. I bet if I lived in the area I would do a lot of their races. I had planned on sticking around to meed the Better World people but I wanted to get back home.
Not The Run
I just dropped Mikey off at college. First kid. First year. I joined a couple Facebook groups for their school so I could get details about check-ins and paperwork deadlines for parents and stuff like that. I did get that info – but what I also got was a lot of parents posting about how hard it was for them to let go of their child.
I get that I guess but some of them were really over the top (for me) and look – if you’re having a feeling, you’re having a feeling. Who am I to say it’s wrong? No one – that’s who. But I WILL say I could not relate in the least. It’s not because I don’t love my kid – because I do. It’s not because I won’t miss hearing their voice – because I will. It’s because I am *way* more excited for them than I am sad for me.
This is true of both my kids… Being their father is just one of the many things I *am*. Yes, it’s a HUGE part – but in the way that being their father has influenced (and improved) every other part of me not in the way that diminishes all of the things I was before. (I don’t believe in that sort of thing.)
So I was feeling pride. This kid has been amazing me and challenging me in ways I never could imagine along the way. They’ve been preparing for this for a long time and – as their dad – so have I. Looking at where we are I’d say we did a damn good job. Nothing left for me to feel but really really excited for them. There are good times and shitty times, huge wins and dumb mistakes waiting for us in the future but that-is-what-it-is-all-about.
Is my apartment quieter? Yes. Is the group dynamic here different now? Yes, of course. But you know how I love to embrace change – so embrace it I will.
I’ve had this race on the books for a long time – just about a year actually. Dan recommended this race to me. – I know. Shocker. He was planning to do the 40 miler as he has off and on (mostly on) for the last 10 years or so and I planned to run with him on the final lap.
“OK”, I said. I really enjoyed running the Rosaryville 50k and other trail runs so I thought this would be a great way to get out of town and see something new (which I’m also a fan of). So… yes. I’m IN.
I am not a “trail runner” – historically. Though I think I find it a lot more enjoyable than running on the street. Or the track. (Obviously I don’t like the track – look at my pace!). Except bugs – I don’t like running in bugs. Ticks and spiders specifically. So I don’t get out as much as I should.
I do love nature though. I love being in it. It makes me imagine a world where, instead of making meat out of plants we would just, you know, eat less meat. Or a world where instead of always trying to do more with less – we just do less and enjoy what is. Where what we expect out of the planet is more in line with what we actually need rather than… what we think we need.
I could really let my inner hippie out right now but I won’t – I mean I started to but then I deleted it. Right here – in this spot where these pixels are, I rambled on about living off the land, etc. – but maybe I’ll save it for “Not the Run”. Or I won’t – because like probably a lot of people I’m more hypocritical that I’d like to think I am.
Before the Run
You: Oh. It’s one of those posts. Where he just adds new heading willy nilly. Ignoring the arbitrary three part formula he usually uses.
Me: Damn right. This was a good time and it spanned the weekend so I want to share more of my experience than I usually do in case anyone is interested in doing the race themselves.
The race is set on Saturday in Douthat State Park, in Bath County, Virginia which is a four hour drive from Annapolis (without traffic) but before I roll straight into logistics and what not, let me back up and try to wrap some context around this…
This was a family affair. One of the things I really enjoy about Dan is his family – and his commitment to it, his wife Katie and her commitment to the family and Dan. They are often out of town, camping, exploring, racing, visiting…living. All of them. Two young boys, one dog and a puppy. That’s right – not “two dogs”. One dog and a puppy. It’s different. Not only that – Katie’s parents arrive at the park a day early, secure the campsite and then help with the kids and the dogs (plus their dog makes two and a puppy…)
OK – so back to logistics… With traffic it takes about 5 hours to get to the park from Annapolis give or take and since we were getting up early the next morning to run we didn’t want to be rolling into the park at night. So the move was to leave Annapolis around noon. The boys have school so waiting to put the whole gang in the van would put us dangerously close to missing the packet pickup window between 8pm and 9 pm.
Dan: Katie says we can leave before rush hour and she’ll follow with the boys after school – but we’ll need to take Highland. Me: Silence. (Highland is the puppy.) Dan: We can cover up the back seat. I know you love that car. Me: Right…Well we can just take Mikey’s car! (I said as if I had just solved world hunger. Mikey just left for college and left their Ford Focus hatchback with me.) Dan: Oh that’s better than taking your car. Me: What? Is my car in the woods a little like putting on makeup before a run? Dan: Kind of – also, there’s more room in the Ford.
I worked a half day from home and then met Dan at his place to pack up the car and hit the road. It’s just like commuting – but longer, and with a puppy. I half expected Highland to be up the entire trip. Bouncing from one window to the next. Back and forth. Back and forth. And he did that – a little bit. Every once in awhile he’d poke his nose up front – “Hey guys. What’s up. I’m Highland and I’m super cute. I’ll just be back here in case anyone wants to pet me.” But for the most part he just chilled out in the back seat.
Before I knew it we had made our way the four hours plus one stop for essentials and were pulling in to Douthat State Park. We pulled into the visitors center and Dan went in to get a parking permit for the car while I held on to Highland.
When people see you standing with a puppy they want to talk to you – about the puppy. Everybody wanted to know how old he is – I had no idea. “He’s my my buddy’s puppy – I don’t know” was my clumsy answer. He’s 6 months give or take. I know this now – because it’s the first thing I asked dan when he emerged from the visitors center.
Parking permit in hand, we made our way to the camp site.
My parents were active Girl Scout leaders so I camped what felt like a lot when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because I was much younger then but it felt a LOT more like roughing it than this. I can remember hiking for MILES (at least 100 miles, probably more) from the car to the camp site when I was a kid. It was probably 100 yards but you know how it is when you’re a kid. Everything is bigger and you feel so much smaller. I think that’s why kids are so amazed at and excited by everything.
Here, we just pulled right onto the camp site. Very convenient. Bathrooms? Why yes – a 50 yard walk to the bathrooms (and separate showers) complete with hot water and electricity free from the influence of the elements – which is my fancy way of saying that the walls and doors were floor to ceiling keeping out the weather and the bugs.
It wasn’t long before we had the tent up and the car unloaded. Katie’s parents were there so we set off for some dinner.
The Odyssey Trail Running Rampage includes a 40 miler, Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, 6 Miler. You can read all about it and Oddessey Adventure Racing here but here’s the excerpt from the web site that caught my eye…
“The loop will have a total elevation gain of 2700 feet over 13 miles, the majority of which will be gained in the first four miles.“
The first four miles?! Yikes – that’s a little bit of climbing! I ran the half with Dan (one loop) and he ran the 6 miler with Katie afterwards.
I’ve only got a couple of longer trail races under my belt but from what I’ve read and in my limited experience they tend to be small laid back affairs. This is not to say that they aren’t well organized or that we’re kind of on our own out there in the woods just that I guess everyone knows that they’re going to be out there for a long time so no one seems to be in a hurry. (That’s race irony in case you missed it.)
Safety and planning were evident during the race briefing. The race director was super nice and was sure to explain the course, course marking and some of the hazards – including a fallen tree on the way up the mountain. He also warned us that since the trail was dry that there were a lot of downhill sections where the ground was loose.
“You’ll want to be real careful on your third lap ‘cus you’re gonna cramp up when you try to go under that thing…” (the tree) He wasn’t kidding – I only did one lap but that tree was a pain in the ass the first time – I can only imagine trying to get by it after running 26 miles…
This run provided a variety of terrain and beautiful views. I tried to capture as much as I could but nothing is quite like being there especially in hurried moments with a cell phone camera. True to the description there was a LOT of climbing in the first few miles. We were eased into it with a fairly wide but rocky trail. There was a slight incline but the loose rocks really helped to set the tone of the race and remind me what level of focus would be required. The field separated pretty quickly with the faster folks out for time getting out ahead of folks who were there to admire the woods.
Then things got really steep really fast. If there were people still running – and I’m sure there were – they were ahead of me and Dan. I didn’t take a picture of it because – safety first – but this is the part of the trail where that tree had fallen.
The climb felt like it went on for forever. I tried to imagine doing all three laps and I quickly realized that I would need to train very differently than I would for a road race. I’d need more time on the trails and more time building strength. As I approach 50 the reality is that I have to work harder to maintain my muscle mass and strength. Not impossible but certainly a challenge. I mean – 40 miles to start. Then throw in this climb…
After the initial rocky section there were switchbacks to help us up. I started to catch a glimpse of the view through the trees.
The single track turned from a rocky mix to almost sandy at times. Dan had struck up a conversation with a couple folks in front of us who had run some of the same races he has in the past. I stared at the ground and tried to listen in so the time passed easily for me until finally we reached the high point. This wasn’t the scenic overlook at aid station 1 but I had to snap a picture.
After this the trail got VERY narrow and thank goodness the ground was firm otherwise I would have just slipped off the side of the mountain! We emerged from the tree cover and the vegetation changed as we ran along the ridge line. It looked very steep but Dan assured me that I wouldn’t fall *all* the way down – but I might roll my ankle so I should stay to the right. I did. I did not roll my ankle. (yay)
After some time we started a gentle descent and re entered the woods. People started passing us going the other direction as we approached the first aid station of the loop. We were about 4 miles in at this point. The station was at the end of a little out and back lined with a tall grass of sorts and the trees had thinned out again. After no time we came to the end of the the trail where there sat a small log cabin and a handful of volunteers with water and runners taking in the view. I took a few pictures of the runners that had been in front of us and they reciprocated and took a picture of Dan and I. Everyone was really nice.
There is no easy way up to this cabin but the volunteers had CARRIED water up so that we would have some hydration. Carried. Water. Up. A. Mountain. I’m not sure how many gallons of it but enough for all of us. It had to be a lot. I had a cup and thanked them for being there. After a minute or so of admiring the view we went yet again into the woods to begin the descent. This is the part of the trail we had been warned to be careful of the loose rocks. The rocks here were large enough to look solid but none of them were. Every step moved beneath my feet. My mind and my ankles were taking a beating – but it was FUN!
Coming down the mountain felt almost like dancing – no two steps being the same, falling at different times and in different ways created a complex never repeating rhythm. The variety and focus helped the time pass. I only wish I could have spent more time looking into the woods and not at Dans feet! The trail changed again from those large loose rocks to a smaller packed trail and we descended long easy switchbacks picking up the pace a bit. Nearing the bottom we came to these beautiful tunnels formed by rotodendrons.
The next several miles were pretty uneventful. The rotodendrons gave way to sparse woods and the fast descent was replaced with some nice rolling trail covered in a mix of sand and rock.
We left the trail and were delivered onto a fire road that took us right past the camp site! In another couple hundred yards we arrived at the second aid station – manned by a local boy scout troop – where we were greeted by Katie and one of the boys. This stop was NOT at the top of a mountain so they had the usual assortment of food. Potatoes, candy, cola, etc. I had some potatoes and cola – completely unnecessary for a half marathon – refilled my water bottle and we took off.
I hardly ever drink soda these days – but when you’re on the trail… it just tastes so good!
At this point we had about 4 miles and change to go. We ran for a really short time on the road and past the visitor center before turning back into the wilderness. I was just starting to think how nice it was to be on flat course and then, as if on cue, a shortish but VERY steep hill appeared. We walked a little. To avoid walking the whole time, we started picking landmarks to run to. I’m certain that if we were doing the 40 miler we would have walked more but we agreed that since we were doing the one loop we shouldn’t be as easy on ourselves.
After a couple miles we found ourselves on the road again running through campgrounds set up for folks with horses. I have never seen such a thing. Aid station number three was at the end of this campsite, manned by more boy scouts. I had some more cola and immediately regretted it. Maybe if I had put in a few more miles in between it would have been a better decision. Dan asked to pet one of the horses and they said sure!
And then into the woods we went – this time being careful not to step in any of the “road apples” left by those pretty horses.
The last few miles passed quickly. Well – in my head anyways. We followed the trail around a small lake and aside from me tripping on a foot bridge and almost falling into the water it was pretty uneventful. Before I knew it we were done. 13.4 miles in the books.
We didn’t stick around too long after we finished since we needed to get back to the camp site. Dan and Katie had an hour or so before the 6 miler would kick off and I… needed a shower before I hit the road.
Not the Run
I dropped Katie and Dan at the 6 miler and after the race started went back to the camp site to pack my things and get on the road back to Annapolis. As I was loading up I noticed people running past the camp site. It was the six milers! I did some quick math and realized if I waited a couple minutes I would catch Dan and Katie coming out of the woods – so I did.
Just a few weeks before this race I took a road trip in California with my kids and saw the Giant Redwoods and Half Dome and I told them that being there made me want to just take three months and do nothing but wander around in the wilderness.
I couldn’t help but wonder – Am I trying to escape from something or return to something?
Looking back on this race report and these pictures I think it’s neither. I think I’m just realizing how big the world is and how little I’ve seen of it. I want to see taller mountains and bigger canyons. Different cultures and ages of architecture. I know I probably won’t have time to spend truly learning any of it enough to do it justice but I think being exposed to it is important. I want to be in that state of wonder, of felling small in a big place – or a new place, to remind me to approach people with understanding. To be better. We’re all small in a big place but we have this tendency to forget that when we spend every day in the same place, doing the same things. We don’t grow living that way.
I’m lucky enough to have the first few couple of Maslow’s needs met, I have the time and energy to spare on being better. That’s how I want to spend it.